Quanta Physics World  August 2017

Seen and heard

Weird and wonderful stories from the world of physics


Space socks

First came the launch of “space fashion” last year when the European Space Agency’s “Couture in Orbit” fashion show premiered at London’s Science Museum. Now Spanish designer sock firm SOCK’M is also getting in on the act. The company has teamed up with fellow Spanish firm Zero 2 Infinity, which aims to make space travel more accessible, to create “Space Socks”. The footwear is designed to meet the challenges of space travel and give future space tourists the chance to go to space without having the extra burden of wearing unfashionable socks. The garments are made from fire-proof cotton that is reinforced with silver and copper thread, which apparently inhibits the electrostatic charging that occurs in synthetic fabric in zero gravity. However, as most of us will have our feet firmly on the ground, SOCK’M has kindly created some limited-edition socks that you can buy for just $10 a pair. “We hope our venture will showcase that space lies within the realm of ordinary businesses, not just the superpowers,” Raúl Espada, a co-founder of SOCK’M, told Physics World.

Eye of a needle

Still on fashion, a study by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, US and the University of Geneva in Switzerland, has concluded that dressmakers have impressive 3D, or “stereoscopic”, vision. The researchers discovered that such people are particularly good at translating the 2D viewpoints of each eye into one 3D image, which is important for threading a needle, catching a ball or parking a car (Scientific Reports 7 3435). They have shown that dressmakers are 80% more accurate than non-dressmakers at calculating the distance between themselves and the objects they are looking at. They are also 43% better at guessing the distance between two objects. However, the authors are not sure whether dressmakers gain this needle-sharp vision with experience or are drawn into the profession because of it. “Only a training study could disentangle the two options,” they write. That can only mean one thing – more grant funding, please.

Physics for babies

Think your baby is too young to learn about quantum entanglement or optical physics? Well, Chris Ferrie, a quantum physicist at the University of Technology, Sydney, doesn’t think so. He released two new board books last month – Quantum Entanglement for Babies and Optical Physics for Babies – that you can add to your little one’s bedtime routine. For just £8 a pop, the tomes feature colourful drawings and a sentence on each page describing the illustrations. Examples include “All electrons have energy” with a basic picture of an atom and “This ball has mass” with an image of a ball. Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, the new books follow on from four other titles – on quantum physics, Newtonian physics, general relativity and rocket science – that were published in May. While Ferrie says that publishing the books is a hobby and he is not looking for a career change, he is not resting on his laurels. Ferrie is releasing three more books in early 2018 on quantum information, statistical physics and electromagnetism.


(iStock / MJ_Prototype)

Roll with it

With the holiday season in full swing, we can think of nothing more frustrating than dashing for your plane at the airport with your suitcase in tow, only to find it rocking from side to side before finally overturning. Having had enough of these annoying oscillations, physicists from Paris Diderot University have investigated the physics of the two-wheeled suitcase by putting a toy model of a suitcase on a treadmill (Proc. R. Soc. A. 473 20170076). It turns out that the best way to deal with a wibbly-wobbly suitcase is not to slow down, but instead to either pivot the handle as close to the ground as possible or speed up. The researchers say that the same effect can be seen when a car tows a caravan. It strikes us, though, that you would need to be a brave driver to stop a rocking caravan by accelerating rather than slowing down.